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Pac-10, others don't do checks on officials

It's a worry for several conferences that rely on limited background reports by the NCAA.

July 25, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Unlike the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conferences, the Pacific 10, Big West and West Coast conferences do not do background checks on people who officiate their games.

They rely instead on the NCAA, which conducts such checks -- but only on the officials who work bowl games and the men's and women's basketball tournaments.

With accusations an NBA referee bet on games he officiated reverberating through college sports, administrators are considering what more they can do to protect themselves.

"Everybody in this business has worried forever about the officiating component," said Michael Gilleran, commissioner of the WCC. "We're all just one incident away from a real nightmare."

The Pac-10 has had one, though it involved athletes instead of officials. In 1997, former Arizona State basketball players Stevin Smith and Isaac Burton Jr. pleaded guilty to charges related to a point-shaving scheme that fixed four Sun Devils games.

"It's something we're always cognizant of because we had it ... at Arizona State," Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon said.

The NCAA has waged an aggressive anti-gambling campaign among athletes in recent years, requiring NCAA tournament teams to view presentations about rules against gambling and its risks.

A 2003 NCAA survey found 1.1% of Division I football players and 0.5% of Division I men's basketball players reported they had taken money for playing poorly in a game. Another 1.6% of football players and 1.5% of basketball players said they knew a teammate who had done so.

Officiating is the next focus.

Gilleran, the WCC commissioner, said he is considering trying to form a consortium of conferences who commonly share officials to conduct checks on those who aren't scrutinized by the NCAA.

The reported $135 cost per check the ACC incurs would be too much for a smaller conference to do it alone, Gilleran said.

"There might be something where we could do a reasonable job and it not cost a fortune," he said. "I'll be blunt, money is a reality."

Contrary to what some might expect, gamblers do not focus solely on high-profile events.

Gilleran said a WCC men's basketball player was approached by another student to talk about point shaving.

"It starts on campus," Gilleran said.

Dennis Farrell, the Big West commissioner, said a conference athlete once was approached about fixing a game, and the school reported it to law enforcement, with the FBI eventually becoming involved.

"It doesn't matter what level the competition or how prestigious an event might be viewed to be by the public, if they're posting a betting line, there is that potential something could happen," he said.

"If two people want to get together and bet on a college tennis match, something could happen."

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robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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